Monday, March 23, 2015

Returned Missionary

So, for those that are thinking, "She's not a missionary anymore, why is she writing more??" It was suggested to me to write a final email/blog post, to update on the last week of being home and what the experience has been like. Here goes.

Being referred to as a "Returned Missionary" has to be on the list of weird things of being home from a mission, but I wouldn't say it's the weirdest. It's so great to be with family, see old friends, re connect with those I taught in my old areas and to generally try to establish a routine (which so far has been unsuccessful due to the random events and family activities that have been going on), but there are plenty of adjustments to make.

For a brief recap of the week...

I couldn't sleep the whole plane ride home. Elder VanWagoner and I somehow sat next to each other on every single plane ride for over 20 hours and both listened to the other talk the other's ear off about the mission. I had a nice discussion with a cool French man at the Seattle airport who spoke 5 languages and was Greek Orthodox (which made me want to scream "I know your religion because of My Big Fat Greek Wedding!" but I didn't). The reality of coming home didn't really set in the first few plane rides, but the culture shock sure did. American's are just so rich, big, and mean. Or, those were my impressions after living 18 months in a country of small, malnourished, golden hearted people. I stepped of the plane in Utah and suddenly felt like I had just left everything worth having in the Philippines and almost turned around and tried to get back on the plane. Some lady must have noticed my dazed look and shell-shocked body language, and she asked me where I was trying to go. She directed Elder Van and I to the escalators and I had a heart-stopping moment as I saw my family on the ground floor of the airport. I proceeded to argue with Elder Van, trying to make him go down the stairs before me, because I certainly was not going to be first. I don't know what hit me- I just knew that the moment I saw my family, the finish line would be all too close, and I wasn't ready for it to be done. But of course, instinct eventually overcame. I practically ran down the stairs and threw myself at my mom and cried, because that's just what you do, right? We took the obligatory pictures and generally basked in the joy of being reunited. There's nothing quite like 18 months apart to make you appreciate your family. Unless you're an Elder serving for 2 years, I guess. 

Walking into my house all I could keep saying was, "We're so rich. America is so stinking rich." I've since come to accept that the blessings we so often take for granted here in this country does not mean we are better than others- just that we have the opportunity to bless other's lives, because we have the means to do so. (But I still think everyone is rich. And I love that I can drink out of any water tap I want to.)

Being released and taking off the name tag was probably the hardest thing I've had to do up to this point of being home (9 days now.) Opening my Book of Mormon is what gives me comfort, because even though I don't wear the tag anymore, I feel the same familiar peace of the Holy Ghost when I read it.

The following night (since I apparently wasn't in the furthest possible stage of shock) Megan surprised me with the special dinner and the Europe tickets which could not have been a bigger shock. (With coming home combined with the news of Europe, I'm surprised I didn't lose a couple of my 5 senses. The excitement is a little too much to handle.) 

Some of the hard things about being home are all the usuals: adjusting to another schedule, being ice cold ALL of the time, not having a companion, speaking correct English, and all the usual things you hear RM's struggle with. My family is still trying to get used to the weird quirks and habits I picked up on the mission, and sometimes communication is a struggle and ends up in lots of giggles. Of course there are a lot of perks to being home and seeing loved ones. But I guess the new and most daunting challenge I currently face is to take all the things I learned in such a... different environment that the mission is, and apply them in my new ecosystem (for lack of a better term). 

Even just the first day I was home, it was like I could feel the tentacles of my old self and my old world tangling around me and inviting me in, to return to what I used to be and used to do. This morning, I was listening to a talk I felt prompted to put on back from conference of 2009. It's by Elder Dale G Renlund, entitled, "Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change". He explains in this talk the process of literal heart transplants: what happens in the body, what patients who receive a new heart are required to do and how it can be protected. He says:

 "In each heart transplant recipient, the patient’s own body recognizes the new, lifesaving heart as “foreign” and begins to attack it. Left unchecked, the body’s natural response will reject the new heart, and the recipient will die. Medicines can suppress this natural response, but the medications must be taken daily and with exactness. Furthermore, the condition of the new heart must be monitored. Occasional heart biopsies are performed wherein small pieces of heart tissue are removed and then examined under a microscope. When signs of rejection are found, medications are adjusted. If the rejection process is detected early enough, death can be averted.
Surprisingly, some patients become casual with their transplanted hearts. They skip their medicines here and there and obtain the needed follow-up less frequently than they should. They think that because they feel good, all is well. Too often this shortsighted attitude puts the patients at risk and shortens their lives."
Elder Renlund continues on to liken this to our spiritual mighty change of heart. "Equal, if not greater, care must be taken with a spiritually changed heart than with a physically transplanted heart if we are to endure to the end." 
It's our "natural man" response to give in to carnal desires, to reject the "new heart" we've found. We must monitor the condition of the new heart constantly, through what Elder Renlund referred to as spiritual heart biopsies. Alma 5 provides a great example in verses 14, 19, and 26 of a spiritual biopsy.  
"Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? 
 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"
By spiritually examining our hearts, we can examine any "signs of rejection" by our natural man, and adjust our spiritual doses of medicine accordingly. And as he pointed out, just because we feel good (I'm not talking about the Holy Ghost's brand of "feeling good") does not mean we are on the right path to make it to the Celestial kingdom. Remember what Lehi saw in his dream when he watched those multitudes milling around the rod of iron: 
"And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building." 
We cannot be content with the attitude that truth is relative. We cannot just do whatever makes us "feel good", because we are a fallen people. We are susceptible to the natural man, who craves carnal things. It we are following simply what feels right to each one of us, we will end up with millions of different opinions labeled as "truth" on varying subjects like how to find happiness, or what our purpose is in this life-- with the truth still escaping us. If we simply follow our natural man feelings on matters such as these, we will be led into roundabouts, cul de sacs, and dead ends that are all created by Satan. We may end up in the great and spacious building, a pathetic substitute for the tree of life. If we want to know truth, we have to tune in, frequently, to the Spirit. The Spirit works through our changed hearts to help us to recognize the difference between the fabricated "good feelings" of the world, and the true and genuine good feelings sent by the Lord. Our challenge is ensuring the mighty change is an ongoing event. Elder Renlund closed by sharing, 
"Please consider the state of your changed heart. Do you detect any rejection setting in as a result of the tendency of the natural man to become casual? If so, find a place where you too can kneel. Remember, more than mortal years on this earth are at stake. Do not risk forfeiting the fruits of the ultimate operation: eternal salvation and exaltation."
Thanks to the numberless people who have been a support these last 18 months, and to those of you I saw at my homecoming. It's a pleasure to rub shoulders with so many whom I look up to and admire. I hope this mission blog has helped to reach out to others and give a little picture of what mission life has been like for me in the Philippines, Bacolod mission. God lives, and I am thankful for the promise He has fulfilled to me, found in Ezekiel 36:26:
 new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
Sister Luke

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